The big interview: Luis Figo – "Barça weren't treating me properly – it was too late when they did, so I joined Real Madrid"
Growing up, how much time did you spend honing the step-overs, feints and dummies that you would later use to such good effect? Were you always a winger?
Bill Fowler, Worthing
I truly believe that everything was born with you and it’s something that comes naturally. Of course, later you need to practise these skills a lot in training sessions and games, but if you don’t have a natural talent, it’s worthless. I haven’t always played as a winger. Actually, I only started to play as a winger when I joined Barcelona. At Sporting I used to play more as a midfielder.
For someone who’s never played in England, you have exceptional English. Why is this – did your parents encourage you to learn or are you just good at languages?
Tony Stevens, Inverness
Portuguese people have natural skills to learn new languages. I believe I’m not an exception. When I was in school I wasn't a big fan of English classes, actually. But later, when I was living in Barcelona, I had to improve my English to seduce my wife, who is Swedish [laughs]. I think that was the crucial moment. I never had proper English lessons, but I went to some business English classes to learn specific business vocabulary.
As part of the so-called Golden Generation of Portuguese football, you won the Euro U16s and World U20 championships. Did such success convince you all that you were going to win something at senior level too?
Mike Gilding, Manchester
Yes, I think that generation changed Portuguese football and opened many doors. Back then, clubs could only use three foreign players and they were forced to give more chances to younger players. And those trophies we achieved in the youth teams proved there were quality players over there.
Other than Eusebio, who were your heroes growing up?
Nigel Clausen, Sheffield
To be honest, Eusebio was not among my big idols because I never saw him play. I was more a fan of the great players from the 1980s, especially after the 1982 World Cup. There was Maradona, Zico... in Portugal, Fernando Chalana and Paulo Futre, both of them wingers. I guess we all have a tendency to like guys who play in the same positions as we do, right?
You first played under Bobby Robson at Sporting. Did he ever get the names of players mixed up, as he often did in England? What’s your favourite Bobby Robson story?
Adam Robertson, Plymouth
Bobby Robson turned to him and said: “Ronaldo, Ronaldo... I want a double hat-trick, double hat-trick.” We all rolled on the floor laughing
Not that I remember! Of course he was a foreigner and sometimes it was hard for him to remember some words or some names of the players, but I don’t remember him calling a player by someone else’s name.
Once, at Barcelona, at half-time during a match against Logroñes that we were winning 4-1 or 5-1 with three goals from Ronaldo, Bobby Robson turned to him and said: “Ronaldo, Ronaldo... I want a double hat-trick, double hat-trick.” We all rolled on the floor laughing. We all knew what a hat-trick was, but... a double hat-trick?!
What happened between you, Juventus and Parma in 1995? Did you really sign for both clubs?
Barry Rendell, Grimsby
It was the only proper contract I really signed – what I’d signed with Juve wasn’t supposed to be a valid contract
My contract with Sporting was about to expire and the club hadn’t done anything to sign a new one – at least not when I thought they should have. They reached a deal with Juventus to transfer me, but I was angry when I found out about it and I signed a contract with Parma’s president, Giambattista Pastorello.
It was the only proper contract I really signed – what I’d signed with Juve wasn’t supposed to be a valid contract. But Luciano Moggi, whose influence in football I understand a bit more these days, managed to ban me from playing in Italy for two years. Maybe it was my lucky moment, because in the end I went to Barcelona.
Johan Cruyff signed you for Barcelona to replace Michael Laudrup. How much pressure did this put on you?
Ross Heron, Didcot
When you are 22 and you face a challenge like Barcelona, you never think about who you’re going to replace. You just want to do your best, prove what you’re capable of and show that you deserved the chance. That was exactly what happened to me. It was the best decision I’ve ever made in my career.
Cruyff was known for having tactical theories that were often out of left-field. Where there any examples of this during your time at Barça?
Mark Goss, Bradford
That’s not true. He was a real visionary, and I learned a lot with him.
In 1996/97, Ronaldo scored 34 goals in 37 games. What was it like to play with him when he was at his best?
Kevin Wilson, Bridgend
Ronaldo was just amazing. He was born with this special talent for football. His strength, speed and skills were unique. Some players work 14 hours a day and they just can’t reach a high level. Ronaldo almost didn’t need to practise to be a great player. I don’t think I ever had a team-mate who achieved such impressive figures in just one season.
I’ve read that after winning the title with Barça, you once dyed your hair red and blue and chanted ‘White cry-babies, salute the champions!’ Is this true?
Chris Piper, Liverpool
Yes, it’s true. They’d spent the entire season complaining about referees and saying that we had all the benefits. In the heat of the celebrations, I did sing something like that. I shouldn’t have done it because in football you should always respect your opponents.
You used to own a Japanese restaurant in Barcelona – what do you prefer, a traditional Portuguese cozido or a tasty bit of sushi? Did the players ever come to the restaurant and try to eat for free?
Glenn Marsh, Bath
It didn’t last long because soon we moved to Madrid and we closed it in order to avoid problems in Barcelona
It all depends on how hungry I am or whether I’m having lunch or dinner! I love Japanese food, but also Portuguese. The truth is the restaurant belonged more to my wife; it was a business we set up together with a couple who are friends with us.
And it didn’t last long because soon we moved to Madrid and we closed it in order to avoid problems in Barcelona. All my team-mates had to pay, sure. There’s a rule in business: never give anything to your friends!